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Professor Tolkien's Whimsical Talk

Tolkien (misc.)Posted by Morgan Thomsen Mon, April 30, 2012 18:03:20
On 14 December 1956, J.R.R. Tolkien made a speech at the opening of the new Deddington Library (Scull & Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, pp. 497–8). The Oxford Mail published an article from the opening on 15 December, but it appears to have been largely unknown that another article from the event was featured in The Banbury Advertiser on 19 December. As far I know, the latter article was first “re-discovered” when it was mentioned in a 2011 brochure from the Deddington Library.

The British Library was able to provide a photocopy of the original article, “Deddington’s New Library Opened by Mrs. L. Hichens – Prof. Tolkien’s Whimsical Talk”, appearing on page 5 in The Banbury Advertiser for 19 December 1956. I have made some efforts to contact a representative of The Banbury Advertiser (no longer in print), but without any success: the magazine appears to have been owned by a member of the Russell family of Deddington, and the original owner is deceased and his son now apparently lives in China (for this piece of information, thanks to David at the current Banbury Advertiser, not associated with the original publication [Update: link no longer available as of 27 April 2013]).

Below follows a low-resolution reproduction of the original article, and transcriptions of the passages dealing with J.R.R. Tolkien.

Deddington’s New Library Opened by Mrs. L. Hichens – Prof. Tolkien’s Whimsical Talk

Nowadays books are besieged by a great many powerful embattled enemies, some of whom have been strongly entrenched, and to be here at the opening of a strongpoint from which troops can be sent out against those enemies is a great honour.

Any schoolboy who noticed a similarity between these words spoken by Prof. J. R. R. Tolkien at the opening of the Deddington Branch Library on Friday afternoon, and an adventure story he had recently heard would not be far wrong. For Prof. Tolkien is the author of “The Lord of the Rings,” a remarkable fairy romance for which he invented 700,000 words, and which has in its three volumes been broadcast extensively on the B.B.C. schools programme.

Prof. Tolkien was speaking after the official opening by Mrs. Lionel Hichens, formerly the chairman of the Oxfordshire Education Committee.

Mrs. Hichens said it was a great day for the people who lived in or near Deddington.

“It’s now a great deal different from the sad, grey and horrible surroundings of the court,” she said (the library is situated in the former Deddington Courtroom), “and it has undergone a wonderful change.”


Prof. Tolkien was introduced by the County Librarian, Miss M. Stanley-Smith, and in a whimsical address he said he felt that while not a native Oxonian, he could count himself a naturalised subject for he had lived at Oxford for the past 38 years.

Libraries, he said, were to blame for him, because he had never been able to distinguish between the fascination of finding fairy stories on the same shelves as Primers of the Gothic language. “Out of these things have come my books,” he said.


“The wealth of books to be found here,” he said, “is food for the mind, and everyone knows that for the stomach to go without food for a long time is bad, but for the mind to go without food is even worse.”

He advised his audience that everything they read might eventually be of use to them. He had read pages which he had thought he had forgotten, and yet at the oddest times, the information which those pages had contained had proved of use to him.


“I have seen visions through the wormholes of books printed before Caxton died, and from the painting of skins of animals which roamed that County we don’t speak of at Wantage before Alfred was born,” he said.

He concluded with a verse from one of his volumes in the musical fairylike language that he invented.

He was thanked by the Rev. M. Frost, Vicar of Deddington, who said that the County Library Service was most useful.


Miss Christina Hole, the authoress and expert on English folklore, whose books are a popular “must” for many country-people, seconded Mr. Frost’s vote of thanks and thanked Prof. Tolkien for coming from those far lands which he had created. His works had given her and many others intense pleasure.


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